Milford Redevelopment Commission was visited by George Robertson, president of the Kosciusko Economic Development Corporation, at its monthly meeting Monday, Sept. 12, at town hall. Robertson updated the commission on KEDCO’s efforts to attract business and maintain a skilled workforce.
According to Robertson, after three or four years of steady expansion, including the addition of 850 jobs in 2015, hiring in Kosciusko County reached a “plateau.” This was expected, due to the completion of construction projects. Additionally, business people are not feeling “warm and fuzzy” about the world situation as a whole, said Robertson, with terrorism and the election year political climate putting employers on edge.
That said, Robertson remained optimistic due to the many prospects coming in not only from KEDCO’s efforts, but those of the Northwest Regional Partnership and Wabash Valley Power as well.
The companies looking to expand into northern Indiana are primarily food manufacturing and auto vendors, according to Robertson. Mid-sized food manufacturers are answering the demand for niche products: gluten-free, and GMO free foods. “We’re eating differently as a country,” he asserted.
Auto vendors are moving away from metal and toward lighter-but-stronger composite materials like carbon fiber, to meet mandates governing gas mileage and crash worthiness.
These companies want to move to Indiana because of its central location and its pro-business tax policies.
However, Kosciusko county is facing a future labor shortage. “KEDCO saw this coming,” Robertson noted, and has spent half of its time on workforce development programs. This shortage is largely due to baby boomers leaving the workforce after putting off retirement during the recession. He estimated roughly 100 workers retiring every year for the next 10 years.
To meet this growing demand, KEDCO has been working to integrate the training programs at high schools, WorkOne, Ivy Tech, to make it easier for high school graduates to be able to enter the skilled labor force faster.
Companies, said Robertson, want “hands-on time.” But high schools cannot afford the training equipment. However, one new program combines one year at the Warsaw Area Career Center with a second year at Ivy Tech, providing graduates with practically 100 percent employment, most at $15-$16 per hour. This year 32 first year students are joining the program and Robertson believes all 45 slots will be filled in 2017, thus getting the county halfway toward replacing those 100 baby boomers planning to retire.
Additionally, a welding advisory board and health careers advancement board are being formed to meet those demands with similar programs.
KEDCO’s workforce development efforts also involve creating advanced welding opportunities in Kosciusko County — the nearest facility is in Hobart — and finding transportation for high school students, fewer of which have cars due to the economic downturn.
Milford Redevelopment Commission president Dan Brown asked Robertson what the town can do to make its TIF districts more attractive to companies looking to relocate.
Robertson answered prospects “Don’t want that much land,” adding the ones that do may have odor or other undesirable issues. Owners need to consider subdividing their parcels to attract prospects looking for 10 to 20 acres.
Before adjourning, the commission voted to request the Milford Town Council name Joellen Free to the Community Action Council.
The commission’s next meeting will 10 a.m. Monday, Oct. 10.